Just when will the waves of yellowfin tuna begin pushing through out Mid-Atlantic waters? No one can predict it for sure. Sometimes it happens early, sometimes it happens late, and… well, for those who can bear the painful recollections, there have been seasons when the fish and the weather conspired to more or less ruin the spring season. Let’s hope 2023 is not one of those — and let’s be prepared to get in on this action the moment that tuna temptation begins.
Trolling for Yellowfin
Most of the time, this will be a trolling game. Early yellowfin are on the move as they head north, and it’s rare for them to set up shop and stick to any one spot for long. The hot bite can be dozens of miles away from one day to the next and just about every trip you’ll probably have to do some looking to find the fish. So, tactics like chunking and jigging generally aren’t yet in vogue.
The offerings are fairly simple. Most boats will put out a six- to eight-line spread. Skirted ballyhoo and maybe a daisy chain or two go on the long lines; don’t forget to put a blue/white back there somewhere. Spreader or splash bars run on the shorts or in a similar position from the gunwales, depending on just how your boat and your outriggers are set up. Rigged or skirted ballyhoo go on the flats. Old timers may well put a chain of cedar plugs back there on a flat line. They may well also run a bird trailing a Green Machine daisy chain in the center way-back.
Note to modern anglers: that bird/Green Machine rig seems to have fallen out of favor a bit in recent years, but there was a time when there wasn’t a charter boat running out of Ocean City that didn’t pull it. Truth be told it’s still one of the most effective yellowfin-pleasers out there. Rigging one up is simple: Get a 12-inch Boon Bird, add a 12-foot leader of 150- to 200-pound test, then put a Green Machine inline, then after another two to three feet of leader add a second inline Green Machine, and two to three feet after that attach a third Green Machine with a hook. Try it and we’ll bet you like it.
Finding the Tuna
The oceanic waters off our coast are very different early on than they will be later in the season. While the midsummer ocean warms up until it has a character that might be described as rather blah, at this time of year you can expect to find major-league temperature differences from one area to the next, eddies rolling in off the Gulf Stream, and water barriers colliding. This is a time of year when finding the temperature breaks prior to leaving the dock becomes critical, or better yet viewing those breaks on your MFD as the shots come in. FishTalk supporter SiriusXM offers two plans that can help with your offshore endeavors, Marine Offshore Weather and Fish Mapping, which have all the data any service can deliver and then some — plus, it can be beamed right to your boat so you can view it at the helm. We’re not sure just how that can be beat, but regardless of what option you personally may choose to use for getting temperature break or other ocean condition data, just be darn sure you get it because this is one of the times of year when it matters most.
Also remember that those breaks may hold fish (the stronger and more abrupt the break is, the stronger the possibilities) even when they’re located in areas one wouldn’t expect to find fish during other seasons. Don’t ignore a significant break merely because it’s over flat bottom nowhere near one of the usual hotspots. And don’t just blindly run for the canyons because, hey, everyone loves to go to the canyons. As an eddy or an edge moves those fish will follow, even if it’s in the middle of nowhere.
When you locate a temperature break, be sure to crisscross it and work both sides. The water may look better and run warmer on one side or the other, but that most certainly doesn’t mean it’s the side you’ll catch fish on. In fact, with yellowfins in particular it’s quite common to draw a blank in the “pretty” water and then mash ‘em up on the dirty side. These aren’t billfish, and they’ll happily chase the bait where conditions appear to be less than ideal.
Also keep your eyes out for visible standing rips and troll through them, but don’t focus on one rip line alone even if it looks magnificent. If the fish are there you’ll find out, and on a particularly rippy day you can troll through dozens of them before a rod goes down. But often, one rip that looks like all the others will for whatever reason be magic. So, when you cross one and get a hit turn around — there’s a good chance your rods will go down again — but if nothing happens leave it in your wake even though it may look attractive.
We’ll say it one more time: we can’t predict exactly when the yellowfin will start showing up. That’s why we have our FishTalk fishing reports, to keep the current fishing intel flowing. But looking back through the years there’s an excellent chance that it will be this month. Are you ready to go get ‘em?
Weather or Not
When you’re 50 or 60 miles from the inlet, changes in the weather become no joke. One thing we want to point out about the SiriusXM satellite service is that it gets you a slew of weather data that can’t be beat. Sure, you have an app on your phone for weather, but does it work when you’re trolling in the Washington? Not a chance. SiriusXM weather goes well beyond what apps can tell you anyway, with wave height/period/direction, NEXRAD storm cell attribute information, radar, lightning strike, wind field, high-resolution wind forecast, and more, all rolled into the one service. All of this is piped to your MFD in near real time, and can be overlaid on your chartplotter so you can see exactly where you are and exactly what is coming your way.